The second of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations is a call to openness, to welcome whatever is happening in the moment – whether pleasant or unpleasant – in a spirit of hospitality. When receptive, we are free to discover, to investigate, to explore options, and to respond skillfully to whatever we encounter. We are liberated from living life reactively. He refers to that posture as a spacious, undefended, non-biased allowing. It renders us open to new life, experiences, opportunities for growth, and a tolerance for the unknown.
By contrast, denial breeds ignorance and fear. When we argue with reality, we lose every time. Like it or not, reality will keep coming back at us, bringing more suffering with each visitation. That being said, accepting reality does not imply resignation. Rather, it acknowledges what is and confers the freedom to develop a response. We retain agency in the conduct of our affairs.
For most of us, it’s especially difficult to turn toward suffering. We seek distractions to keep it at bay or find ways to sidestep it entirely. But such strategies make us live self-protective, small lives. Moreover, our distractions typically only provide temporary relief. For healing to occur, we must be willing to open up to pain and explore its many elements, one of which is our attitude toward it. Pain plus resistance equals suffering.
Pain plays an important role in our lives. It warns us of danger. It pinpoints aspects of our lives that need attention and care. It opens us up to deep connection and empathy with others. As we become adept at dealing with pain, we gain insights about ourselves, others, and the world that enable us to make skillful choices and act. And we can live in a world of change with greater ease.
An openness to pain can lead us toward the healing power of love. We need not be a heat-seeking missile for love. As Irish writer, priest, and philosopher John O’Donahue says: “We do not need to go out and find love; rather, we need to be still and let love discover us.” Such love springs forth from our very source of being. It recognizes and responds to intrinsic goodness. Ostaseski says:
“The sort of fearless openness required to turn toward our suffering is only possible within the spacious receptivity of love… [Love] provides us with a way of approaching life that softens the identification that keeps unskillful habits from hardening into character. Love helps us accept. Loving awareness helps us embrace it all.”